Women often study sambo as a defense against muggers and rapists. Developed by Russian soldiers in the early 1900s, it's a martial arts form best described as a combination of judo and wrestling. "We learn a lot of tactics from the ground. If somebody attacks you, you don't have to be very strong," says Gokor Chivichyan, a top sambo trainer.
Like so many martial arts, sambo cloaks its violence in honor. The World Sambo Federation, an Ohio-based association of more than 30 schools throughout the world, boasts of being "a Christian organization [that] will only accept members with exemplary character."
One would expect Darrin Pordash, the federation's founder and president, to personify that code. He has been fighting for more than two decades. The sambo instructor owns a fourth-degree black belt and 17 tournament wins. He even sells his own video, Winning Leg Lock Combinations.
But he doesn't look the part. At 37, he stands an inch shy of six feet and weighs 190 pounds. "You'd look at him, and you wouldn't think he could fight to save his life," says one acquaintance. "He looks like a doctor." Which he is. A Sheffield Village chiropractor, to be exact.
Pordash should have been in his element at the Sambo Nationals in Evansville, Indiana, on November 9. Yet he seemed distracted.
"He was watching us compete," recalls one of his students, Adam Markiewicz, "but he had an off-in-the-distance look, too, like there's something in the back of your mind."
Four days later, Pordash was arrested and charged with rape.
In October, a woman came to the Sheffield Village police with a strange question: "What would happen if . . .?"
She laid out a scenario in which a doctor makes an advance toward a patient. But she didn't name the doctor and left without filing a complaint. An officer took down her license number and made a report, just in case.
The incident might have been forgotten, were it not for a 23-year-old Elyria college student who came in later that month with a strikingly similar story. The woman, whose name is being withheld by police, said she had been sexually assaulted during an exam by her chiropractor, Darrin Pordash.
He had treated her several times in the past, and nothing untoward had happened. But this time, she says, he began to fondle her crotch through her sweatpants. He stopped, and she thought, "Okay, maybe he just slipped or something," she says.
Moments later, Pordash slipped his hands down the back of her pants and inserted his finger into her vagina, she says. She slid off the examining table and went for the door. Pordash blocked her way. He put his arm around her and said, "I do care about you," she says.
The doctor tried to kiss her, but she squirmed away and fled, she says. "I was extremely confused and scared."
The next day, she went to a lawyer, James Walther. "I knew right away there were going to be other women, just from her description of how it happened," Walther says. "He was so smooth in the way it all occurred, it appeared to me that he was somewhat experienced in that; that he'd done it before."
When she told police her story, it jogged Lieutenant Ron Trifiletti's memory. He tracked down the woman who had come in earlier that month. She confirmed she was talking about Pordash. "She basically said, yeah, the same thing happened to her," Trifiletti says.
Police began an investigation, but before they could finish, a third accuser forced their hand.
On November 13, a woman contacted police to say she had been sexually assaulted that day. Like the others, she claims Pordash penetrated her with his fingers.
Police sent her to a nurse to gather evidence, although her account suggests Pordash covered his tracks. "There's not going to be any semen involved in this," says Trifiletti. "She told us that he washed his hands prior to examining her and afterwards. Underneath his nails and stuff like that."
Pordash was charged with one count of rape and pleaded not guilty. More charges may be forthcoming, police say. (Pordash referred interview requests to his lawyer, who declined to talk.)
The women who accused Pordash -- all in their early to mid-20s -- didn't know each other, police say. After one gave interviews to Fox 8 News and Elyria's Chronicle-Telegram, three more women lodged accusations against the doctor.
"Here you have three victims and three potential victims," says Trifiletti. "How many more didn't come forward? You just never know."
Despite styling himself as a devout Christian and a man of honor, Pordash has had other encounters with trouble.
He was convicted of felonious assault in Missouri for a fight at a 7-Eleven, police say. Seven months ago, he was sued by a Lakewood man, who claims Pordash put him in a leg lock and ripped a knee ligament.
The man, Gaby Barakat, was Pordash's patient. They got to talking about martial arts, and Barakat, who is a black belt, accepted an invitation to perform a demonstration with Pordash at one of his classes.
During the demonstration, Pordash applied several holds, which Barakat escaped, says his lawyer, Earl Ghaster. This apparently angered Pordash, who may have felt he was being shown up in front of his students. Pordash put Barakat in a leg lock.
"Pordash just twisted, and his knee popped," Ghaster says. "The whole class went hush, and he limped away."
But whatever judgment lapses Pordash may have had, his friends in the World Sambo Federation don't believe he's a serial rapist.
It's a common refrain among those with friends accused of crimes, but in Pordash's case, it holds a special irony: He was supposed to be teaching students how to defend themselves against criminals.
And Pordash's life seemed to be going well. He got married in the summer of 2001. Six months ago, he bought a $385,000 house in one of the more well-to-do sections of Avon Lake.
Gokor Chivichyan, a top sambo trainer who taught Pordash, remembers him longing to put down roots. "When the conversation comes to about girls, he says he wants to have a good family, settle down, buy a house. That's his dream."
If Pordash wanted to run around, he wouldn't need to force himself on women, Chivichyan argues. "He's a very handsome guy. If he wants to do something, he don't have to do it in his clinic."
But if the charges against Pordash turn out to be true, perhaps no one in sambo would feel more betrayed than Jermaine Andre, who trained with Pordash four years ago.
Andre, a kickboxing and shootfighting champion from Illinois, spent six years in prison for armed robbery. He lived by the prison code that punished inmates who had preyed on women and children. "Whenever we could get our hands on them, we'd do whatever we wanted to do to them," he says. "We'd beat them down . . . because everybody's got a mom, a sister, or a daughter."
His hatred of sexual predators continued when he was released. "I thought: Wait a minute, I could teach these women to be like me," he says. He began offering a free women's self-defense course.
He didn't know his former instructor was accused of rape until a reporter called. "There's a point where I can only say, I don't know. Knowing Darrin, I wouldn't expect that," he says.
But, as anyone who knows the doctor can attest, appearances can be deceiving.
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